OAKLAND -- Amy and Jeremy Hou recently opened their Glenview home to a public energy tour sponsored by Energy Upgrade California and StopWaste.org.
Nearly 30 Glenview residents attended the February event, hoping to learn more about how to improve home energy efficiency and about the pilot program Flex Package, which offers rebates for home energy upgrades.
Launched in August 2012, Flex Package offers Alameda County homeowners up to $1,500 in rebates for energy-saving home improvements. To qualify for the program, homeowners must use a participating contractor and install two or more of the listed measures. Each upgrade is given a point value, and combined they must equal 100 points to qualify for the rebate. For example, a homeowner could choose to replace her heat pumps (85 points) or install wall insulation (70 points) or seal his home's ducts (80 points). Many of the attendees of the home energy tour wanted to know how these changes could lower energy costs.
Glenview resident Gerri Bradley came to the home energy tour because her monthly energy costs had doubled after installing a smart meter in her 100-year-old home.
"I'm highly motivated to reduce our PG&E bill," she said. The home assessment, conducted by Mason Construction, proved informative. "I was especially interested in all the new technology. It makes it precise."
Dressed in cloth booties to protect the Hou's wood floor, spectators crowded in the living room to watch the Blower Door depressurize the house. Aptly named, the Blower Door is a large piece of red canvas with a fan at the bottom. It seals across a front door and sucks air out of the residence. With all the windows closed, it can easily depressurize a home down to 50 pascals. The rate at which the house regains pressure correlates to the home's level of leakiness. The Hou's 1920s home has leaks equivalent to the size of a basketball.
While leading the demonstration, Justis Fennell, contractor at Mason Construction, said: "That's a pretty big efficiency loss."
The contractors also used infrared cameras to discover which window seals were losing heat, and demonstrated a duct blasting system that measured leakage in the ducts -- the Hou's home was at about 40 percent. According to Lowell Mason, 59, owner of Mason Construction, most of his equipment has become common within the past four years.
"Now it's not what the contractor says, it's a measure ... it's exciting to have quantitative data," he said.
Mason also highlighted the fact that in his 42 years of home energy efficiency experience, the most effusive feedback he gets is related to comfort. The home air quality improves and those pesky drafts that freeze toes and fingers disappear.
"No one comes to these (demonstrations) if they're comfortable in their house," he said.
Jeremy Hou, 35, thinks the Flex Package program will help his family make improvements that might otherwise be unaffordable.
"With the rebate, we can keep it at a reasonable level," he said, "and we can take small steps and plan for the bigger steps."